The Washington Nationals are headed to the World Series for the first time in the franchise’s history, and if you caught any of their postseason performances so far, you’d be forgiven for being a little confused.
There were baby sharks everywhere. Chomping motions by the players. A little shark hanging on the dugout netting. “Baby Shark” chants in the stands and, during games at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., several full-grown adults wearing head-to-toe shark costumes among the red-clad sellout crowds.
How did “Baby Shark,” a viral children’s song that cracked the Billboard Top 100 earlier this year, become a battle cry for a World Series-bound team?
Short answer: Baseball is weird.
Long answer: The whole thing started when outfielder Gerardo Parra used the song as his walk-up music in June. At the time, the Nationals weren’t great and Parra was in a slump himself. Walk-up songs are good opportunity to show a little personality, and Parra has kids, so he decided to join the ‘Baby Shark’ trend.
For whatever reason, the song stuck. Maybe it was because Parra is a cool guy, or because the Nationals, who started the season 19-31 (poorly) started playing better. By mid-season, it was a whole thing. Nats fans sang along every time Parra came up to bat while an elaborate intro played on the park’s Jumbotron. Other players started adopting the baby shark motions, making big claps after getting on base or, charmingly, tiny little shark motions with their fingers, like a baby shark golf clap.
It was only natural that this baby shark energy, which had sprung out of nothing but serendipity, charisma and some good ol’ baseball boredom, would follow them into the postseason. During the last few National League Championship Series games against the St. Louis Cardinals, a stuffed baby shark appeared on the Nationals’ dugout netting. Parra says someone sent him a few, so it only made sense to do something with them.
When Nationals rookie Victor Robles hit a home run during Game 3 of the series, he gave the shark a little smooch. Very normal baseball behavior.
It”s hard to describe why these things happen. Baseball games are long and the season is even longer, so there is plenty of time for all sorts of madness to set in, fester, and eventually harden into tradition. A few years ago during a particularly hot streak, the Nationals took to squirting chocolate sauce all over each other after every win. Before the season began in 2018, Nationals manager Dave Martinez brought a camel to spring training to help players visualize “getting over the hump” of postseason disappointment. Earlier this year, they had some short-lived celebration routine with cabbage. It is what it is.
Every team has their odd little mannerisms and fascinations, their delightful obsessions that keep players and fans fighting through the season. Not every team makes it to the World Series. The Washington Nationals and their baby sharks, however, just keep swimming.